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The term Ancient, or Archaic, Greece refers to the time three centuries
before the classical age, between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.a relatively
sophisticated period in world history. Archaic Greece saw advances in art,
poetry and technology, but most of all it was the age in which the polis, or
city-state, was invented. The polis became the defining feature of Greek
political life for hundreds of years.

o The Birth of the City-State
o Colonization
o The Rise of the Tyrants
o Archaic Renaissance?
During the so-called Greek Dark Ages before the Archaic period, people
lived scattered throughout Greece in small farming villages. As they grew
larger, these villages began to evolve. Some built walls. Most built a
marketplace (an agora) and a community meeting place. They developed
governments and organized their citizens according to some sort of
constitution or set of laws. They raised armies and collected taxes. And
every one of these city-states (known as poleis) was said to be protected by
a particular god or goddess, to whom the citizens of the polis owed a great
deal of reverence, respect and sacrifice. (Athenss deity was Athena, for
example; so was Spartas.)


Greek military leaders trained the heavily armed hoplite soldiers to fight in a
massive formation called a phalanx: standing shoulder to shoulder, the men
were protected by their neighbor's shield. This intimidating technique played
an important role in the Persian Wars and helped the Greeks build their

Though their citizens had in common what Herodotus called the same
stock and the same speech, our shared temples of the gods and religious
rituals, our similar customs, every Greek city-state was different. The
largest, Sparta, controlled about 300 square miles of territory; the smallest
had just a few hundred people. However, by the dawn of the Archaic period
in the seventh century B.C., the city-states had developed a number of
common characteristics. They all had economies that were based on
agriculture, not trade: For this reason, land was every city-states most
valuable resource. Also, most had overthrown their hereditary kings, or
basileus, and were ruled by a small number of wealthy aristocrats.
These people monopolized political power. (For example, they refused to let
ordinary people serve on councils or assemblies.) They also monopolized
the best farmland, and some even claimed to be descended from the gods.
Because the poor with their wives and children were enslaved to the rich
and had no political rights, Aristotle said, there was conflict between the
nobles and the people for a long time.
Emigration was one way to relieve some of this tension. Land was the most
important source of wealth in the city-states; it was also, obviously, in finite
supply. The pressure of population growth pushed many men away from
their home poleis and into sparsely populated areas around Greece and the
Aegean. Between 750 B.C. and 600 B.C., Greek colonies sprang up from
the Mediterranean to Asia Minor, from North Africa to the coast of the Black
Sea. By the end of the seventh century B.C., there were more than 1,500
colonial poleis.

Each of these poleis was an independent city-state. In this way, the

colonies of the Archaic period were different from other colonies we are
familiar with: The people who lived there were not ruled by or bound to the
city-states from which they came. The new poleis were self-governing and


As time passed and their populations grew, many of these agricultural city-
states began to produce consumer goods such as pottery, cloth, wine and
metalwork. Trade in these goods made some peopleusually not members
of the old aristocracyvery wealthy. These people resented the unchecked
power of the oligarchs and banded together, sometimes with the aid of
heavily-armed soldiers called hoplites, to put new leaders in charge.

These leaders were known as tyrants. Some tyrants turned out to be just as
autocratic as the oligarchs they replaced, while others proved to be
enlightened leaders. (Pheidon of Argos established an orderly system of
weights and measures, for instance, while Theagenes of Megara brought
running water to his city.) However, their rule did not last: The classical
period brought with it a series of political reforms that created the system
known as demokratia, or rule by the people.

The colonial migrations of the Archaic period had an important effect on its
art and literature: They spread Greek styles far and wide and encouraged
people from all over to participate in the eras creative revolutions. The epic
poet Homer, from Ionia, produced his Iliad and Odyssey during the Archaic
period. Sculptors created kouroi and korai, carefully proportioned human
figures that served as memorials to the dead. Scientists and
mathematicians made progress too: Anaximandros devised a theory of
gravity; Xenophanes wrote about his discovery of fossils; and Pythagoras of
Kroton discovered his famous theorem.
The economic, political, technological and artistic developments of the
Archaic period readied the Greek city-states for the monumental changes of
the next few centuries.

The story of the Trojan Warthe Bronze Age conflict between the
kingdoms of Troy and Mycenaean Greecestraddles the history and
mythology of ancient Greece and inspired the greatest writers of antiquity,
from Homer, Herodotus and Sophocles to Virgil. Since the 19th-century
rediscovery of the site of Troy in what is now western Turkey, archaeologists
have uncovered increasing evidence of a kingdom that peaked and may
have been destroyed around 1,180 B.C.perhaps forming the basis for the
tales recounted by Homer some 400 years later in the Iliad and the

o The Narrative of the Trojan War
o The Trojan War Epics
o History, Archaeology and the Trojan War
According to classical sources, the war began after the abduction (or
elopement) of Queen Helen of Sparta by the Trojan prince Paris. Helens
jilted husband Menelaus convinced his brother Agamemnon, king of
Mycenae, to lead an expedition to retrieve her. Agamemnon was joined by
the Greek heroes Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor and Ajax, and accompanied
by a fleet of more than a thousand ships from throughout the Hellenic
world. They crossed the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor to lay siege to Troy and
demand Helens return by Priam, the Trojan king.
Some traditions portray Homer as a blind poet, because the name Homer
sounds like a word for "blind" in some Greek dialects. In the Odyssey, a
blind bard appears telling stories of the war, which some interpret as a
cameo by the poem's author.

The siege, punctuated by battles and skirmishes including the storied

deaths of the Trojan prince Hector and the nearly-invincible Achilles, lasted
more than 10 years until the morning the Greek armies retreated from their
camp, leaving a large wooden horse outside the gates of Troy. After much
debate (and unheeded warnings by Priams daughter Cassandra), the
Trojans pulled the mysterious gift into the city. When night fell, the horse
opened up and a group of Greek warriors, led by Odysseus, climbed out
and sacked the Troy from within.

After the Trojan defeat, the Greeks heroes slowly made their way home.
Odysseus took 10 years to make the arduous and often-interrupted journey
home to Ithaca recounted in the Odyssey. Helen, whose two successive
Trojan husbands were killed during the war, returned to Sparta to reign with
Menelaus. After his death, some sources say she was exiled to the island
of Rhodes, where a vengeful war widow had her hanged.


Little is known about the historical Homer. Historians date the completion of
the Iliad to about 750 B.C., and the Odyssey to about 725. Both began
within the oral tradition, and were first transcribed decades or centuries
after their composition. Many of the most familiar episodes of the war, from
the abduction of Helen to the Trojan Horse and the sack of Troy, come from
the so-called Epic Cycle of narratives assembled in the sixth century B.C.
from older oral traditions.
In the first century B.C. the Roman poet Virgil composed the Aeneid, the
third great classical epic inspired by the Trojan War. It follows a group of
Trojans led by the hero Aeneas who leave their destroyed city to travel to
Carthage before founding the city of Rome. Virgils aim was in part to give
Romes first imperial dynasty an origin story as impressive as that of the


Many portions of the Trojan War epics are difficult to read historically.
Several of the main characters are direct offspring of the Greek gods
(Helen was fathered by Zeus, who disguised himself as a swan and raped
her mother Leda), and much of the action is guided (or interfered with) by
the various competing gods. Lengthy sieges were recorded in the era, but
the strongest cities could only hold out for a few months, not 10 full years.

Major excavations at the site of Troy in 1870 under the direction of German
archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann revealed a small citadel mound and
layers of debris 25 meters deep. Later studies have document more than 46
building phases grouped into nine bands representing the sites inhabitation
from 3,000 B.C. until its final abandonment in A.D. 1350. Recent
excavations have shown an inhabited area 10 times the size of the citadel,
making Troy a significant Bronze Age city. Layer VIIa of the excavations,
dated to about 1180 B.C., reveals charred debris and scattered skeletons
evidence of a wartime destruction of the city that may have inspired
portions of the story of the Trojan War. In Homers day, 400 years later, its
ruins would have still been visible.